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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK


Last ditch plea over benefits cuts

Disabled people are angry about some parts of the Welfare Reform Bill

Disabled groups have launched a final attempt to get the government to scrap changes to benefits entitlement which they say are unjust.

At a press conference in front of the House of Commons on Monday, the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) urged backbench Labour MPs to vote against key proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill.

A vote on the Bill is expected on Monday afternoon.

The consortium says the proposals will cut £750m from Incapacity Benefit and will also hit thousands of the most severely disabled people.

The Child Poverty Action Group is backing its stance.

It claims the Bill is "politically motivated" because the government wants to look tough on benefits and is "inconsistent" with its aims to tackle poverty and social exclusion.

Incapacity Benefit

The Bill aims to restrict Incapacity Benefit, which is currently £66.75 a week, for new claimants with occupational or personal pensions.

It is expected to affect people on a pension of £50 or more a week.

The DBC says 45,000 people will lose out in the first year of its introduction and that the average loss will be £28 a week.

The government argues that it is "an inefficient use of resources" to pay money to people who are already getting a pension and says many people on Incapacity Benefit have been in high-paying jobs.

But the DBC says Incapacity Benefit has already been reduced by the previous government to take account of occupational and personal pensions.

Severe Disablement Allowance

The other proposal which has caused concern among the disabled is the scrapping of Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA).

This benefit is currently £40.35 a week and is available to severely disabled people who are unable to work and who have not been able to pay national insurance contributions.

This includes people who have been working part-time, people who are carers and people who have been disabled from birth.

[ image: The government aims to get disabled people off benefits]
The government aims to get disabled people off benefits
The latter are to be transferred onto Incapacity Benefit, which means their income will increase and disability charities have welcomed this.

However, other groups will have their benefits cut.

About 10,000 of the 16,000 people who are estimated to be likely to lose out over SDA are women, who make up most of Britain's part-time workers and carers.

These include people like Jane who is married with two children.

She stopped working after having children and was planning to go back to work when her children were school age.

But when her youngest child was due to start primary school, Jane had a bad car accident and was left severely disabled.

Under the changes to SDA, she will have to rely on her husband to keep her.

Multiple sclerosis

Another loser will be Michelle, who is in her late 30s and suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS).

Her mobility is severely restricted and she is losing her sight.

Before developing MS, she worked part-time in a supermarket.

The DBC says it welcomes the government's plans to encourage the disabled into work.

But it adds: "Paying for employment initiatives by taking benefits away from those disabled people who cannot work has no legitimacy."

Scope, one of the members of the forum, says the effect of limiting Incapacity Benefit may ironically be to discourage the disabled from trying to find a job.

It says people may be quite happy to give up benefits for a job, but they may be worried that they will not be able to get back onto them if they have a recurring disability, such as MS, or they lose their job before they have paid enough National Insurance contributions.

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